FIRST-PERSON: In search of Jesus ... at the cross
EL CAJON, Calif. (BP)--Arrested and taken to the "godfather" of Israeli politics, Jesus was judged and sent to the High Priest. Condemned, He was dragged before the Sanhedrin. Declared guilty of blasphemy and condemned to death, He was sent to Pilate. Shuffled to Herod, examined, returned to Pilate, Jesus was bound over for crucifixion.
Two executions had already been scheduled. Jesus was added to the list, thus fulfilling the prophecy "He was numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12; Mark 15:28).
On Skull Hill "two robbers were crucified with Him.... And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads.... Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing" (Matthew 27:38, 44).
Naked, impaled, dying, muscles quivering, lungs gasping, arms being pulled from sockets, memories seared, minds clouded by pain, these two embittered thieves squandered their last moments by joining their executioners in reviling the only Perfect Man who ever lived.
Then at noon one thief had a change of heart.
One thief cursed Him: "Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!" But the other thief said: "Have you no fear of God? You're getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him -- he did nothing to deserve this." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom." Jesus said, "Don't worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise." (Luke 23:39-44, The Message)
Cursing God, cursing the Romans, cursing the Jews, one of the thieves cursed his way into a Christless eternity. What a glimpse of the depravity of man! Faced with death, you'd think a man would cry for mercy. But, increased pain results in increased obstinacy in a heart hardened against God.
In Revelation, when the tribulation came with its awful anguish, the sinful and blasphemous became more sinful, more blasphemous. When the Lord offered hope, they yelled, "We will not have You rule over us!"
But one thief had an eleventh-hour change of heart. Acknowledging his guilt as he hung there next to the Savior, he somehow knew this Man could rescue him. Lord, he said, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. He called Him Lord, recognized He was a King, and understood that Jesus could give him eternal life.
All the bad things he had done were nailed on that cross next to him, and he went to be with Jesus in paradise that day. The repentant thief started the day as a condemned prisoner and ended it in paradise fellowshipping with Jesus.
We can learn three things from the thieves.
First, it's always too soon to quit praying for our loved ones. God can snatch a sinner into heaven from the deathbed. Jesus said that we "always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1).
Second, it's dangerous to wait so long to be saved. Warren Wiersbe says, "The dying thief was not saved at the last opportunity he had, he was saved the first opportunity he had!" -- the first time the thief had ever heard of Christ. The Lord says, "Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow and Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near" (Isaiah 1:18, 55:6).
Third, it's never too late to be saved. It's presumptuous to believe we can wait until our final moment, then say a prayer and go to heaven. On the other hand, it is never too late to come to Christ.
Living alone in London, a 100-year-old woman came to Christ when a missionary stopped by to see her. "How wonderful," she said, "and how good the Lord has been in sparing me these 100 years that I might learn the way of life!" Her epitaph: "Born 1825; Born Again 1925."
Think you've sinned too much for Christ to forgive? Wonder if it's too late or you're too old? Jesus died on the cross for you and now is the time to trust Him as your Savior.
David Jeremiah is the founder of Turning Point for God, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., and chancellor of Christian Heritage College. For more information on Turning Point, go to www.TurningPointOnline.org.